A Matter of Life and Death: the Holy City of Benares

Adventures in Wonderland

December 2-8, 2012. The dead are burned in Benares, on a huge ghat called Manikarnika. Two hundred on average are burned in a day, and up to three hundred during the busy times. Once I stood high up in a building near by. Looking down on the burning ghat, I counted twenty-one separate fires. And this was at a quiet time of the year. The fires burn from morning until late at night. It takes about three hours to burn a body, and costs about three thousand rupees. The wood used for each body is weighed and charged for. The bodies are carried on specially made bamboo stretchers through the narrow streets of the town and down the steps to the river, where they are dunked (stretcher, body, wrappings, cloth coverings, and all) into the river, into the sacred goddess Ganga, for purification. They are then laid out on the…

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